The battle against shipping fuel emissions


The Russo-Ukrainian war and the Covid pandemic have both made the battle against environmental pollution due to shipping fuel emissions to take a setback during the last two years.

Even though on 1st January 2020 new regulations were introduced by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) 2020 in order to limit the content of sulphur of oil fuel from 3,5% to 0,5%, research has shown that the level of progress that was expected has not been achieved.

Cyprus has always been committed to mitigate the problem of environmental pollution and strongly supports a low carbon transition for the shipping industry.

This was certified by Cyprus President, Nicos Anastasiades, last February at the One Ocean Summit in France. He highlighted the international character of climate change and how shipping industries around the world must act simultaneously with agreed international targeted actions.

The Cypriot government from its side has already presented its long-term strategy for the shipping industry with the project “SEA Change 2030” focusing on the way open seas, oceans and the environment should be managed.

The main goal of this project is the encouragement of neighbouring countries of the region to take the initiative and consider personal responsibility by creating their individual action plans tailored to their own specificities.

Undeniably, regional solutions have not worked properly and in a satisfactory manner, making an international attempt more than necessary.

Thus, it can be said that a sulphur cap with a global character, as the one imposed by IMO 2020, should be more successful at reducing pollution than regional individual regulations. This was demonstrated through a research conducted by atmospheric scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center where regional regulation on fuel sulphur content has proven to be less effective.

Yet, even the global rules set by the IMO have also received criticism. The World Shipping Council (WSC) for example, was urging IMO to draft much stricter and rigid rules for the industry in order to completely remove greenhouse gas emission from global trade by 2050. This was also one of the topics discussed during the IMO’s 78th IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee earlier in June.

Unfortunately, studies show that global emissions will only reduce at a percentage of 1% this year, which is nothing close to the pre-pandemic’s records revealed in 2021. It looks as though the shipping industry is far away from achieving its goal for net-zero emissions by 2050 and for the limitation of global warming to 1.5°C.

More specifically, the last two years are considered as lost years in the battle against shipping fuel emissions where a reduction of 8% per year is necessary in order to meet the net zero goal by 2050.

The war in Ukraine will lead to an extreme fall of gas consumption in Europe and the European countries will ‘double down’ on renewables and energy efficiency so that the continent will be energy independent. This energy crisis is what sets Europe aside the rest of the world. Gas is expected to drop down to just 10% of energy demand by 2050 from 25% which is the percentage today.

Nonetheless, this change in the energy market might have affected the last two years and deemed them as lost but does not necessarily alter the goal for decarbonization by mid-century. As Remi Eriksen, the CEO of DNV, stated the strongest card for the energy transition is the extremely fast reduction of cost for solar and wind energy which will lead to the use of non-fossil energy for more than half of the total energy being used as a result of green electricity production.

In conclusion, the numbers of the last two years might not have been encouraging for the battle against shipping fuel emissions but global regulations, international sulphur cap and existing technology makes the net-zero emissions by 2050 target more feasible.

The content of this article is valid as at the date of its first publication. It is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you seek professional advice on your specific matter before acting on any information provided. For further information or advice, please contact Konstantinos Papailiou at the Athens Office, email konstantinos.papailiou@kyprianou.com or telephone +30 210 3387060.